Sometimes You Leave, Other Times You Stay (in Evangelicalism)

Sometimes You Leave, Other Times You Stay (in Evangelicalism) July 26, 2018

If you are an evangelical, all that is required is being born-again, having that come-to-Jesus moment. That’s one of the reasons why polling data puts evangelicals as anywhere between 15 and 30 percent of the U.S. population.

The downside of experiential Christianity (as opposed to ecclesiatical, sacramental, or dogmatic) is that no one is in the home office to give you a membership card — because there is no home office. Being an evangelical is all spiritual. Yes it seeps out into personal lives. But the corporate headquarters for evangelical is his or her bosom — where Jesus is.

That perspective on a form of Christianity that stresses conversion may explain the recent press release about evangelical women: “Evangelical Women Hit Pause on Culture War.” The notice indicated that the signatories are not happy with President Trump:

As President Trump makes his intentions with the U.S. Supreme Court clear, a most surprising voice of dissent is emerging. A rising chorus of leading Evangelical women is asking America to stop the Senate from rushing to confirmation and hit pause on the Culture Wars. What may at first blush sound counterintuitive, decades of the Conservative Evangelicals’ strategy to dominate the Supreme Court will result in a loss for the pro-life movement and for people of color sitting in the only growing segment of the evangelical church; evangelical churches of color. Hard data proves it and Evangelical women are saying enough.

It sure looked like Southern Baptist women were saying plenty. Maybe these evangelical women are trying to catch up.

Among those who may be making up for missing the Paige Patterson moment are Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker. Chelsen Vicari wonders why these two women are now signing a statement that attributes evangelical identity to them. Evangelicalism was supposed to be toxic:

Also listed is liberal author Rachel Held Evans, who denounced her “Evangelical” title a while back and is now an Episcopalian, and Alexia Salvatierra, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) pastor and a regular speaker at the Wild Goose Festival, a notoriously liberal Religious Left gathering.

Jen Hatmaker, who comes from an evangelical background, is also quoted among those concerned about the addition of a conservative Supreme Court Justice. Hatmaker might be evangelical, but I wouldn’t list her as a conservative since she recently affirmed practicing homosexual behavior. Just last weekend at the Wild Goose Festival, I sat under a tent listening to her discuss what’s it’s been like to walk her church through the LGBTQ-affirming process after being “kicked out” of the Evangelical family.

If this press release is to be believed, these women are active pro-life advocates who have decided to take a time-out from their routine strategies. Well, I’ve listened to a good many of these speakers give presentations at various events around the country as part of my work with the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The ones I’ve heard have never taken time out of their progressive Christian presentations to advocate on behalf of unborn life. When or if they do make the convenient “I’m pro-life” claim, it’s right before they pivot to bash the pro-life movement in some fashion.

Vicari herself may overestimate the identification between evangelicalism and pro-life, which is not to deny the import of protecting life in the womb or that evangelicals have been overwhelmingly opposed to abortion. It is to wonder whether you want to include some theological, churchly, and liturgical criteria for being a Christian other than a moral absolute or a policy position.

But that is evangelicalism’s great weakness. Experience eludes defintion the way O. J. Simpson used to dodge linebackers.

At the same time, evangelicalism’s great strength is size. If it accounts for 20 percent of the population, and if you are an evangelical, you “belong” to something that has over 60 million followers. That’s only a little over half of President Obama’s Twitter followers, but it’s a lot more than the measly 1.5 million Episcopalians that Rachel Held Evans would have for support if she identified not as evangelical but as Episcopalian.

When size matters, so does being an evangelical.


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